Why Boeing 777?

Why Boeing 777?

Flying Flying on the Boeing 777
Tuesday, 08 January 2008 19:23

Why Boeing 777 ? How about Boeing 747, A330/340 or MD-11?

Hi Capt Lim.

1. First let me commend you on presenting an exceptional site with honest, practical and in-depth information on one of the newest jets in commercial service.

2. I have a question which I hope that perhaps you can answer adequately because I can’t. This is namely…

“Why 777? Why did Boeing spend an enormous amount of money to develop an airliner whose size, capacity and cost class can be served by the 747?”

The 777 is not a cheap aircraft. They cost 238 million a piece on the average compared to 215 million for the 747. The GE90, late model PW4xxx and RR Trent engines in the 86,000 to 106,000 lb thrust class are roughly 15 million each in themselves. The 777 does not seem to out-carry the range or convenience of the late model 747s (due to ETOPS routing requirements). The last is a problem, because one of the big application of big wide bodies is in long haul over the water flight, something which the A340 does and the 777 may not be allowed to do even if it ought to be fully capable of doing safely in the absence of regulatory hurdles. The 777-300s are also in fact longer than the 747.

If the 747 didn’t exist, the 777 makes good sense, but the 747 has been flying for over 30 years so its paid for and it is not outdated in any sense. If the idea is to reduce unwanted seat capacity and increase efficiency for operators why not a reduced-weight 747 without the top deck and with 4 smaller engines of the CFM56/IAE-V2533 class? It’ll be cheaper than to do a ground up aircraft. If a ground up aircraft is mandated why shouldn’t it also have a 4 engine option like the A340? In fact, the 777 is not really too far from the size, thrust and capacity or class of the MD-11, a product Boeing saw fit to promptly discontinue.

3. I am not an airline professional, so do forgive me if the above is completely idiotic.

4. Thank you, and finest regards.

Dwight Looi

Hi Dwight Looi,

It is nice to have an interesting question from someone who has a good knowledge of commercial airplanes.

Firstly, before I express my opinions, I wish to state that I am not an employee of Boeing and I don’t claim to endorse their products.

Why Boeing 777? Simple. If you are conservative and not market-driven minded, you would always continue to drive an old car. In which case, the Manufacturer of your old car may have to close shop very soon! That is why manufacturer of cars keep on improving their latest models to suit the customers’ needs. Having said that, airplane manufacturers do likewise if they want to survive in this competitive world.

The Boeing 747 is about 30 years old. Although the later models of the Boeing 747’s have quite advanced avionics like the Boeing 777’s, the basic airframe design is still rather old.

So, why not Boeing 777? It is the first airplane to be digitally designed by computers and the finished product is hence the best in efficiency and quality. Flying the Boeing 777 from the point of view of a pilot is like driving the latest model of the Mercedes than that of an old Jaguar!

You said that the Boeing 777 does not seem to carry out the range and convenience of the later model of the Boeing 747’s. Just for your information, the Boeing 777 comes in 5 models and they seat between 301 to 368 passengers in three class configurations. So they are very flexible and suitable for routes that are mainly of those capacities. They have a range of 5210 nautical miles (9469 kilometers) to 8810 nautical miles (16316 kilometers), a range that is almost just as good as the Boeing 747’s!

The ETOPS requirement may be a slight disadvantage initially, but having achieved the 180 minutes approval from the FAA in May 1998, many destinations are within reach of the Boeing 777’s.

You are also right that the Boeing 777-300 is longer than the Boeing 747.

Why spend money on modifying the Boeing 747’s to reduce the unwanted seats and getting rid of the top deck when the money would be usefully spent on introducing a newer model? It does not make economic sense.

The MD-11 is not a very successful airplane and despite their extra engine it has lesser passenger appeal when compared to the Boeing 777.

It is true that Boeing did not take up the 4-engines option for the 777 like they did to the Airbus 340 airplanes. Despite its two engines, a survey was conducted in 1999 and 2000 worldwide, and it was found that the Boeing 777 was preferred by more than 75 % who flew aboard the Boeing 777 and Airbus 330/340 airplanes.

As a pilot who has flown on both types of airplanes, I still prefer the Boeing 777 in terms of comfort, spaciousness and best of all, the airplane can take turbulence better than the Airbus 330/340!

Hi again,

1. Thanks for the reply!

2. I forgot to mention in the original message, but the 777 also seems to be heavier and needing more power (hence more fuel burn?) than the A330 or A340. The 330 seems to be happy with two CF6/RB211/PW4062 class engines with roughly 120,000 lbs total. The A340
doesn’t seem to really need more thrust than the 330, just that it has 4 fans of the smaller mid-30,000 lbs class CFM56 engines. The 777 with a similar carrying capacity and perhaps marginally higher cruise speed needed a minimum of two GE90/Trent800/PW41xx class giants of 172,000 lbs minimum and up to 212,000 lbs with some later options.

Is this a sign that the 777 airframe is overweight compared to the A330/340? Is it less aerodynamically efficient or that Boeing simply wanted a better climb-to-altitude performance and a higher cruising speed? The latter has never been an Airbus priority especially with the 300/310/320 generation airplanes which are typically 0.1 Mach slower than their Boeing or MD contemporaries.

3. Boeing, it seems to me is in a problematic position. For 30 years it has equal of better products to Airbus in every category. And it has a monopoly of the 747 class market. Now the A330/340 seems to be offering a more economical solution (priced at 85% the 777 price) for the 2nd-tier wide body market. And Boeing is about to lose its 1st-tier wide body crown
to the A380. This is reflected in the number of deliveries from Boeing; 508 in 2000, 380 in 2001 and a projected 275 in 2002. Airbus claims that it will deliver 300 this year surpassing Boeing for the first time in total units.

I must admit that Airbus has the unfair advantage of having European tax payers take a good bit of their losses incurred in their established practice of undercutting Boeing and MD in the past, but that doesn’t change the fact that Boeing now has a big problem. It has lost dominance and it doesn’t know how to get it back.

The Sonic-Cruiser may or may not be a good idea. Frankly, I doubt if 0.1 Mach higher cruising speed is worth half the capacity and twice the engine power. But even it is, it is still a vapor plane that is far from the first test flight. The secondary proposal of an ultra efficient long haul medium capacity design for slower cruise at above 45,000 feet is even more of a vapor aircraft. Amidst all these, 911 certainly didn’t help, but I think its a still a mistake to surrender to the A380 and then not know what to do next.

4. Finest regards.

Dwight Looi

Hi Dwight Looi,

Okay, you are well versed in all the details as to the performance and technical specifications of the Boeing 777 vis-à-vis the Airbus 330/340. You are correct in certain aspects, but the Boeing 777 is not less aerodynamically efficient although it is slightly heavier.

Remember, I mentioned above that the Boeing 777 can take turbulence better than the Airbus 330/340 ? This is because the Boeing 777 wings are more rigid and sturdy than the Airbus 330/340 lighter wings. This consequently contributes to the ‘rougher ride’ when the Airbus 330/340 is caught in turbulences.

True, Boeing may be losing the market share to Airbus Industrie. I suppose it is up to them to come up with more innovative strategies. The Sonic Cruiser may be one of them but its success is left to be seen in the future.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s